Pantry cooking: Tomato gravy

It’s been four weeks today since I grocery shopped, and I think I can eek another week or two out of the supplies I have stashed in the pantry and freezer for feeding our family of six.  Admittedly I’ve bolstered our food selection a few times recently:  I bought some stuff from the Schwan’s man last week; my mom has picked up a jug of milk for me on a couple occasions; and today (when he had to run to the vet clinic anyway) Beau grabbed a sack of hamburger buns and two frozen pizzas at the local gas station.

Oh, and the grits.  Now there are probably not too many Montana kitchens in which grits are considered to be essential.  But since this Montana gal married an Alabama boy, some of us around here get a little nervous when we run out of grits.

So.  I paid a handsome price for two pounds of grits from Amazon.  Amazon’s selection in general is a bit limited these days, and that explains why I ended up ordering not just any grits but rather gift-bag-worthy, stone-ground, artisan grits that came to us all the way from North Carolina.  Definitely a step up from the quick Quaker variety we usually go for.

When the grits came in the mail, we had to try them out of course.  And because I’d discovered three almost-expired tomatoes in my roundup of the frig contents, I decided we’d eat tomato gravy over our grits.

Tomato gravy is Southern stuff.  Like so many other foods, I’d never eaten it until I got mixed up with Beau and his Alabama family.  Truth be told, the Blake/Epperson crew doesn’t actually eat tomato gravy that often; it isn’t necessarily a family favorite and it isn’t Beau’s favorite either.  It’s not a show-stopping Southern dish.  But it is hearty and filling and frugal.  It’s the kind of thing you whip up when your cupboard is on the bare side.

I started this gravy just like you do Mim’s Pretty Quick Gumbo:  with a medium roux.  This time I used bacon grease instead of vegetable oil, though.  Not only because I thought the bacon grease might add depth of flavor to the gravy, but also because I am taking very seriously this (mostly internal) challenge inspired by COVID-19 to use all the resources in my kitchen responsibly.  (I’ve kept a jar of bacon grease in the frig all through my married years, because if there’s anything my Alabama in-laws have taught me about their culture, it’s that you never throw out bacon grease.)


Once the roux was dark enough, I added a can of petite diced tomatoes.  Also the almost-expired fresh tomatoes, mentioned above, which I’d roasted in the oven with olive oil and salt and paper.  And then, because I didn’t have any broth, I poured in a can of beef consommé soup that I’d found in the pantry.  Plus a little water.  Seasoned with onion powder, salt and pepper, worcestershire and plenty of creole seasoning mix.  Then heated it all together ’til it was bubbly.  In the end, right before serving the gravy over the fancy mail-order grits, I swirled in a little heavy cream.

It looked like this:


The kids took a picture to text to their Mim and their Ma in Alabama:


(We were enjoying leftover Easter ham that day, too.)

Mim and Ma were thrilled that we had made tomato gravy way out here in Montana!  And even more thrilled to hear that all the kids loved it — they really truly did!  Ma replied that her favorite way to eat tomato gravy is over hot biscuits, so we ate the leftover gravy that night over fresh homemade biscuits… and it was even better.  (Probably doesn’t hurt that foods like tomato gravy seem to taste even better as leftovers.)

So here’s the quick recipe below.  If you’re down to the bottom of your pantry and the back of your frig, you might still have enough fixings on hand to make tomato gravy.  (I’m never quite sure if canned tomatoes truly count as a vegetable, and I would say grits definitely don’t, and there’s very little protein going on here, and… well, it’s gravy.  So I’m not saying it’s one of the healthiest meals ever… but then probably few pantry meals are.)


Tomato Gravy

1 Make the roux:  Stir and cook 1/2 c. bacon grease and 1/2 c. flour over medium heat to paper-bag brown

2 Stir in a 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes, and, if you have one, a can of beef consommé soup (or other tasty broth)

3 Gather up any leftover tomatoes you have laying around, roast them in the oven, and add them to the gravy

4 Season the whole mess with onion powder, salt and pepper, worcestershire, and creole seasoning

5 Simmer ’til thickened and piping hot

6 Just before serving over hot biscuits or grits, add a splash of milk or cream to the mix.  Enjoy!


© Tami Blake

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